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Photo: Wen-hao Tien.
Taiwan-born artist Wen-hao Tien (left) started inviting people from around the world to teach her songs from their homelands as part her exhibit on immigration experiences at the Pao Arts Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Singing a new language can be a good way to learn that language, but even if you are not trying to learn it, you can experience the emotion in it. Consider all the choruses around the world learning the Ukrainian national anthem these days. Who is not moved by the feeling of solidarity, whether you are a Ukrainian, a singer, or a listener?

It may take an artist, perhaps an immigrant artist like the one in this story, to explore the mysterious, emotional side of the phenomenon.

As Patrick Cox reports at Public Radio International’s the World, “Opera divas sometimes have to sing in languages that aren’t their native tongue. So do popular singers. The Beatles sang in German in their early years. Today, BTS sings in Japanese as well as their native Korean.

“Is it easier to sing than speak in a foreign tongue? And what is the difference between singing and speaking?

“Taiwan-born artist Wen-hao has put that to the test as part of her exhibit ‘Home on Our Backs,’ about the immigrant experience, at Boston’s Pao Arts Center.

“Tien, who has lived in the US for 33 years — much of that time in Boston — wanted to explore the sound of homelands as part of the exhibit.

So, she started inviting people from around the world into the exhibition space to teach her songs from their places of origin.

“Among the musical numbers she learned: a Dutch Indonesian song, a Sanskrit chant, a Shaker hymn, a French song, and the ‘Happy Birthday’ song sung in Brazilian Portuguese (which Tien now considers far superior to any other version).

“For Tien, learning to sing these songs — even when she didn’t fully understand the lyrics or the cultural context — was a highly emotional experience.

“That didn’t surprise William Beeman, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He said singing is ‘enhanced communication.’ …

“He knows this in a personal way [as] Beeman was an opera singer for a time. He said that learning to sing can be a bit like becoming a young child again — and it often sparks childhood memories. 

“ ‘The first thing that a teacher has to do in order to be able to get a person to sing is to kind of regress to the time when they were 4 or 5 years old,’ he said. That is usually a time when people can sing ‘freely and openly without any inhibition.’ 

“Which is also what Wen-hao Tien taps into with her ‘Teach Me a Song’ project. The songs tend be old ones — learned at a young age. …

“Tien’s exhibit also features her artwork, including an elaborate dress made of red plastic bags. The inspiration sprang from a family visit and a clutch of red plastic bags from a grocery store nearby to the exhibition space, where her parents always shopped. 

“ ‘My parents used to visit me from Taiwan,’ Tien said. ‘The first thing they would do when they arrived is to take the subway and go to Chinatown.’ They’d go to a grocery store in Boston’s Chinatown and buy a ton of food. Tien remembers the last time they did this was not long before her father died.

“ ‘I was in my apartment and it was getting dark,’ she recalled. ‘I looked out the window and saw two old people. Both were carrying as many bags as they could possibly hold.’  She knew it was her parents because of the bags. …

“ ‘That’s my last memory of my parents visiting me from far away,’ she said. ‘The image of them carrying many, many red plastic bags.’ … 

“Tien filed this in the back of her mind for years until these memories eventually resurfaced. She decided to make a dress out of about 35 of those bags, stitched and branded together in the style of a ball gown. …

“Tien has made a second dress out of red plastic bags. She hopes to give that one to Boston’s new mayor, Michelle Wu. Like Tien, Wu was born to Taiwanese parents.

“For more on Tien’s ‘Teach Me a Song’ project, check out ‘Subtitle,’ a podcast about languages and the people who speak them.” More at the World, here.

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Rent-a-Pub

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.
Brothers Craig and Matt Taylor built a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, dubbed the Wee Irish Pub. Want to rent it?

Journalist Steve Annear at the Boston Globe gets all the fun assignments. This report is about a perfect little Irish pub available for rent.

“At first, brothers Craig and Matt Taylor thought building a miniature Irish-style pub on wheels, a traveling taproom they could rent for private events and parties, would just be a hobby — a pandemic project that would take their minds off the world’s problems and let people enjoy the familiar comforts of crowding into a bar (albeit a very small one) at a time when it had become almost impossible to do so.

“But within days of launching the ‘Wee Irish Pub’ in September, it became clear that the fireside chat-turned-business venture was going to be much more than a side gig. …

“ ‘The floodgates have opened,’ said Craig, 58. ‘We are getting requests [to rent it], at least two an hour, for the last week.’

“The idea to construct a tiny Irish pub, complete with a small bar, stools, bench seating, and many of the other features found in traditional venues of its kind, had been in the back of Craig’s mind for years, since he read about an inflatable Irish bar that people could rent for a day in their own backyard. …

“ ‘I had been talking about it sort of as a pipe dream that would never happen,’ said Craig, who works in marketing.

“But as the Reading residents found themselves spending a lot of time around a fire pit in Matt’s backyard early in the pandemic — one of the few activities that was still safe and allowed — the possibility surged to the forefront, like the head on a perfectly poured pint of Guinness.

“ ‘We’d talk about it night after night,’ said Matt, 49. ‘Finally it was like, “Alright, let’s just do this.”

‘It’s kind of the perfect pandemic project because people were having backyard get-togethers and staying outside.’

“Last February, after batting around the notion and discussing logistics, they decided to try their luck. They bought a large trailer for the tiny pub to be built on, so it could be towed from place-to-place upon request.

“When it was finally delivered in April, they got to work on construction, a joint effort bolstered by Matt — ‘an IT guy by trade’ with a penchant for carpentry.

“ ‘I’m definitely more about the overall impression and the ambiance,’ said Craig, who took a genealogical tour of Ireland in 2018 with his family, visiting the homeland of his wife’s ancestors. ‘Matt is precise to the micro inch on making sure that every rafter is exact.’ …

“They sourced materials from online marketplaces like Craigslist, and repurposed and recycled old furniture and other items to try and give it an authentic look and feel. Their siblings and other close family members pitched in considerably.

“Within months, the cozy pub had it all: A Sláinte sign graced one wall, under a weathered horseshoe. A framed map of Ireland hung above an electric fireplace. The small bar was installed, with a refrigerator and taps for kegs. A plaque dedicating the project to Craig’s late father-in-law — who was of Irish descent — went up behind the benches, forever holding a seat for him.

“The design of the cream-colored cottage is similar to mobile pubs built by the Irish-based company The Shebeen, which brought one of its units to Boston in 2015.

“The Wee Irish Pub, which can fit up to 12 people inside, finally rolled to its first event — a company gathering in Melrose — in September. It hasn’t slowed down since. …

“The company, officially dubbed ‘Tiny Pubs,’ is based in Reading. But the brothers will deliver the bar to people’s doorsteps up to 30 miles away (or more, depending on the situation). Rentals cost between $800 and $1,200 per day, with Craig and Matt arriving to help with the set-up in the afternoon and then whisking it away the following day. …

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe.

“Most people are renting it to celebrate a milestone birthdays and retirement parties, the brothers said. But they recently received one call from a customer who has a terminally ill relative who had always wanted to visit Ireland, but no longer can.

“Instead, ‘they’re bringing the pub over to her in the driveway, to have a little taste of Ireland,’ Craig said. ‘It’s very sweet.’ More at the Globe, here.

I want to expand on the idea of bringing a bit of Ireland to a patient who can no longer travel. I remember when Animals as Intermediaries (now the Nature Connection) was founded in Massachusetts in 1983. It all started with asking an elderly, disabled woman what would cheer her up and receiving the answer, “Bring me the ocean.” The nonprofit’s founder was able to bring her a collection of items that really made her feel like she was near the ocean. Read about that early, perhaps better, version of virtual reality here.

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Urban Nutcracker

Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff.
Mother and daughter Afrika Lambe (a pianist), and Erika Lambe (a dancer) talk about their deep roots in Boston arts and their love for the “Urban Nutcracker.

Boston has an unusual dance event at the holidays. It’s called the “Urban Nutcracker.” Some years ago, Kristina and I went to see to a production and really enjoyed it. My understanding is that it’s a little different every year, so I know I need to get back there. Today’s story highlights a mother and daughter who have had a role in preparing young dancers of color to take part both here and in the wider arts world.

The daughter danced with the acclaimed Boston Ballet for 11 years, but says that despite some principal solos there, she finds her current work with young dancers more meaningful.

Karen Campbell reports at the Boston Globe, “Twenty years ago, dancer Erika Lambe became Boston Ballet’s first Black Sugar Plum Fairy in ‘The Nutcracker.’ During much of her time with the company, she was the only Black ballerina.

“Now Lambe is involved with a version of the classic ballet dedicated to putting artists of color front and center. This season, City Ballet of Boston’s production of ‘Anthony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker’ also celebrates a landmark 20th anniversary. Williams’s multicultural twist on the ballet classic, set in present-day downtown Boston, blends the traditional Tchaikovsky score with Duke Ellington’s jazzy version and features dance styles ranging from ballet and flamenco to hip-hop.

“ ‘There’s no other “Nutcracker” like this,’ Lambe says. ‘Its whole intent is to speak to a more diverse audience, unlike the more traditional productions. … Twenty years ago, people in this community wouldn’t even consider going to a ballet, but this has brought them into the theaters and gives kids exposure to dance, ballet in particular. It’s such a holiday tradition.’

“This year, Lambe reprises her role as the Mother in ‘Urban Nutcracker,’ and a role behind the scenes, too, as ballet mistress, running the children’s rehearsals, working with some of the adults in the production, teaching upper-level classes in City Ballet of Boston’s school, and running its introductory Relevé program. She’s also helping in the wardrobe department, refurbishing costumes and making new tiaras.

“Now in her 50s, Lambe, who grew up in Brookline, has been enmeshed in the dance world since she began classes at the age of 4. She says she was never one of those kids who dreamed of being a ballerina, but after seeing a Boston Ballet ‘Nutcracker’ production when she was 6, she was hooked, beginning training with the company as one of only a handful of students of color. ‘I hated ballet, but I wanted to be in “The Nutcracker.” ‘ …

“When she was 10, she says, the ballet master pushed for her to be given the role of Clara. Boston Ballet founder E. Virginia Williams demurred, saying the ballet was a period piece, but she cast Lambe in other challenging roles to showcase her talent.

“At the age of 16, Lambe began her professional career at Dance Theater of Harlem under the legendary Arthur Mitchell, which led to three years of ‘great opportunities.’ Then Edward Villella invited her into the fledgling Miami City Ballet. In 1993, she joined Boston Ballet, dancing with the company until 2004. ‘I did a lot. Jumping was my forte, and I was a quick study. I remember I got thrown into a solo [last minute] in “Raymonda” — and I got a good review!’ she recalls with a delighted laugh.

“Lambe comes by her drive and enthusiasm honestly. Her mother is Afrika Hayes Lambe, a beloved Boston area dance accompanist with an impressive background as a vocal soloist as well. At the age of 88, Afrika is still accompanying ballet classes, known for her expansive memory in repertoire ranging from ballet classics to Broadway tunes.

Erika’s grandfather was the internationally acclaimed tenor Roland Hayes, whose father had been enslaved and was later emancipated. Roland went on to fill concert halls and shatter racial barriers around the world.

” ‘A lot of my grandfather’s history informs me,’ Lambe says, citing Hayes’s tireless fight against racism and inequity to blaze a trail for generations of Black vocalists and become one of the highest-paid recitalists in the world by the 1920s. …

” ‘I had hoped to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,’ says Erika Lambe. ‘I wanted to be a principal or soloist at Boston Ballet, but it just didn’t happen. I got some principal roles so I did get the opportunities, just not the title. I had a great career dancing … but I feel like maybe what I’m doing now is more meaningful.’

“Williams, a progressive dance educator and former principal dancer with Boston Ballet … says at his own school, Lambe has become an inspiring role model. ‘Students and parents can identify with her,’ Williams says. ‘She really cares about them, and she’s passionate, reliable, professional, and very proactive about getting things done.’

“Lambe who has taught widely in Greater Boston, also currently teaches at Reading’s Northeast School of Ballet and created a program to bring students from the school’s youth company into the upcoming ‘Urban Nutcracker’ production. ‘It’s a great exchange,’ says Williams, ‘a nice bridge between the white suburbs and inner-city kids. … People that come to the show are struck by the diversity onstage. … Our first show happened right after 9/11, now this one’s right after COVID. I hope it offers the community a kind of a salve to help us heal wounds.’ “

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff.
Restaurant owner Donnell Singleton delivered fresh vegetables and a chicken and rice dinner to JoAnn Witt in Dorchester in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

As I try to catch up on articles I saved from before the lockdown and in its early days, I thought you’d be interested to know that the Boston restaurant in this inspiring June 2020 piece was still operating on its community-oriented principles.

Suzanne Kreiter at the Boston Globe wrote the story and took the pictures.

“When the pandemic shut down Boston’s schools in March [2020], Food for the Soul restaurant owner Donnell Singleton made a decision. Working with activist Monica Cannon-Grant of Violence in Boston, Singleton closed his Grove Hall restaurant to customers and turned it into a provider of free meals for the community.

“He thought they would feed a couple hundred people on the first day. Some 850 showed up. The next day, 1,050. On the third day, 1,200 people came for chicken, collard greens, sandwiches, rice, and other fixings.

“Unable to continue safely serving so many people out of the storefront restaurant he opened four years ago on Warren Street, Singleton and Cannon-Grant transitioned the effort to a free community food delivery service. …

“To support the effort, Singleton at first relied on donations. Then Cannon-Grant swung into action. ‘Monica is the queen of grass-roots,’ Singleton said.

“He got a Resiliency Fund grant from the city, as well as money from the Boston Foundation, Nike, and other funders. Singleton couldn’t pay his staff, but they stayed on as volunteers. Through her own fund-raising prowess, Cannon-Grant provided stipends to the restaurant’s staff so they could keep food on their own families’ tables.

Other volunteers from the community, having no job to go to during the pandemic, crammed into his small restaurant to cook, package food, and drive meals to families, many of whom were in need even before COVID-19. …

“Every day, potential customers peer in the windows or ask through the door for Singleton’s soul food, a mouth-watering assortment of chicken (fried, baked, barbecued, smothered, and jerk), fried haddock, beef ribs, brisket, rice and beans, and more. But they have to wait.

“Singleton said he’s not worried about lost business. He said he felt it would be ‘almost disgraceful’ not to have been there for his community.

‘“Sometimes you have to ask yourself what’s important,’ he said.

“Singleton, a 47-year-old father of three, was born and raised in Roxbury. He attended Latin Academy and was the first member of his family to graduate from high school and college, Clark Atlanta University. He has worked as a teacher, often focusing on at-risk youths, and he owns a children’s book publishing company, Origin Nile Publishing.” More at the Boston Globe, here.

From the restaurant’s website: “Food For The Soul is the only location in Boston where you can walk in and find a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a cop, a fireman, and a school teacher. All of these individuals would be of different ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socio-economical levels, and educational levels. It is here at Food For The Soul [that] every single one of those people are the same, ‘human beings deserving of and receiving great service, great products, and amazing Food For The Soul.”

Follow the restaurant’s unusual array of community activities on Facebook, here.

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Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.
A customer got groceries at the Fresh Truck stop in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

When I was a kid, my mother sometimes bought vegetables from Mr. Mackey. Mr. Mackey was a “huckster” who came around in an old school bus, repainted blue and outfitted like a produce market. I think my mother patronized this project because it charmed her. Earle and Caroline’s mother, Grace, was more practical. She may have tested Mr. Mackey’s wares once or twice, but she objected that he was overpriced. As indeed he was.

But if nothing else, there’s something to be said for the memories generated by such “old tyme” services. My husband likes to talk about a knife grinder who frequented his childhood neighborhood. And ever since the pandemic inspired me to start getting milk delivered in glass bottles, I feel like I’m not only reducing plastic waste but preserving a happy tradition.

As to repurposed school buses carrying produce, Diana Bravo reports at the Boston Globe about a few that are now serving “food deserts” in the Boston area.

Fresh Truck “co-founder Josh Trautwein was working as a health educator at MGH Charlestown Healthcare Center,” she writes, “when he heard from local families that it was difficult to shop for healthy food because the only local grocery store was shut down for a yearlong renovation. That inspired Trautwein to start About Fresh, which operates a program called Fresh Truck to bring affordable, healthy food into Boston communities that need it most.

“The nonprofit purchases food wholesale, and during the growing season Fresh Truck buys from local growers and resells the food at around the same price to help families keep nutritious food on the table at affordable prices.

“The nonprofit operates three retrofitted school buses that have been converted to mobile grocery stores. The trucks accept a variety of payments. Beyond cash and credit, they also accept Electronic Benefit Transfer, Healthy Incentives Program, and Fresh Connect. … Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, mobile markets would allow customers to board and shop on the three buses at 18 locations. But at the height of the pandemic, that was not possible. …

“After a brief shutdown, the program reopened with an open-air plan. Now, at most locations, customers order outside the bus while volunteers shop and package their orders.

“Customers order online in advance and pick up their produce at four locations. [Victoria Strickland, director of communications and partnerships for About Fresh,] says this has been beneficial to the nonprofit’s senior and disabled customers. As a result, Fresh Trucks hopes to continue and expand online ordering beyond the end of the pandemic.”

Sure beats food shopping for your family at “convenience” stores, where in addition to pretzels, Coke, and canned soup, a couple hard, bland apples are likely to be unconscionably marked up.

More at the Boston Globe, here. By the way, I have posted a lot of stories on how other people are addressing the challenge of food deserts. Just search on the phrase in the search box above if you’re interested.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff
Boston’s City Fresh Foods management (above, CEO Sheldon Lloyd
) is selling a stake in the business to its workers via an employee stock-purchase program.

One of the main reasons there is such inequality between the wealth of executives and labor is that when a company does well, very little of the money comes to workers. It’s almost a sharecropper scenario. That’s why sometimes workers pool their savings to buy a company and make it a cooperative. And it’s why owners who worry about inequality offer employees ownership shares.

Jon Chesto writes at the Boston Globe, “City Fresh Foods in Roxbury is in high demand, as the food provider has raced to distribute locally produced meals to homes in and around Boston during the pandemic on behalf of various nonprofit agencies.

“Now, City Fresh co-owners Sheldon and Glynn Lloyd say they are offering a way for employees to share in this success — by bringing them on board as equity partners.

“About 90 of City Fresh’s 150 workers were eligible to participate in a new ’employee stock purchase program’ that closed to applicants last week. The company said 35 employees opted to buy shares in the privately held company through paycheck deductions, collectively representing about 3,500 shares, or a 35 percent ownership stake.

“Bringing employees into the fold as owners has been a longtime goal for Sheldon Lloyd, the chief executive, and his brother Glynn, who now leads the Foundation for Business Equity, launched by Eastern Bank.

“City Fresh workers, many of them immigrants, will now be able to directly benefit as the value of the company increases, through the appreciation of stock and the granting of dividends during profitable years like the last one. The hope is that the dividends employee-owners receive will at least compensate for the cost of the new paycheck deductions. …

‘We’ll still make money, but it’s going to be shared differently,’ he said. ‘It’s not a huge capitalistic moneymaking venture, ultimately, if it continues down this path. But it’s the right thing. It keeps me going.’ …

“The transfer of ownership in the nearly 30-year-old company helps provide for an exitfor two of its investors, Boston Impact Initiative and Cienega Capital. Those investors had together held a 40 percent stake in City Fresh since 2015, when minority investor Unidine Corp. was bought out. …

“Employee ownership [helps] ensure a shared interest in a company’s financial fortunes, said Eastern Bank’s chief executive, Bob Rivers, whose firm helped finance the stock sale at City Fresh. …

“At City Fresh, Sheldon Lloyd envisions a company that outlasts him and his brother. The pandemic, he said, is exacerbating the gap between haves and have-nots, favoring white-collar employees who can work from home and who have money in the stock market.

“ ‘There’s an inequity within the inner city, in the Black and brown communities,’ he said. “In a small way, this helps to bridge that gap.’ ” More at the Boston Globe, here.

Author John Case wrote the book on those types of arrangements. At the New Republic in 2019 he explained, “Close to 7,000 U.S. businesses are partly or wholly owned by a trust known as an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP. The list of companies with full or majority employee ownership includes giant firms such as the Publix supermarket chain in the Southeast, with more than 200,000 employees; large and middle-market enterprises such as W.L. Gore & Associates, maker of Gore-Tex fabric, with nearly 10,000; and smaller companies such as King Arthur Flour (300) and New Belgium Brewing (800).

“These companies are typically more productive than their conventionally owned peers. They grow faster, pay higher wages, and are less apt to lay people off in a downturn. Successful ones — as most are — enable employees to build up serious wealth over time. A recent Rutgers study found that the average worker in a company with an employee stock ownership plan has already accumulated $134,000 in wealth just from his or her stake in the business. Some have a million or more.
” More here.

You might also like the Nonprofit Quarterly’s article by Davis Taylor and Rob Brown about the Coop economy in Maine, here.

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Photo: ICA
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Watershed building is in East Boston, one of the communities hit hardest by Covid-19. In April, the ICA decided the most important thing it could do would be to provide food to neighbors in need. (Art projects for families get included in the bundles.)

Some artists seem more alert to human needs than the rest of us. That’s something my mother noted after my father had a debilitating stroke in his 40s. The painter friend and the poet friend seemed to more moved by what happened, more empathetic, than many others.

Certainly, in the current pandemic, we’ve seen people in the arts stepping up to offer all kinds of help. Here’s an example.

Grace Griffin reported for the Boston Globe in April, “With its galleries closed to the public, the Institute of Contemporary Art is using its Watershed outpost to feed families in need. … The nonprofit enlisted its catering company, The Catered Affair, to help with a donation drive.

“The ICA also recruited new donors to fund the project. The monthlong drive — launched in partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, East Boston Social Centers, Maverick Landing Community Services, Eastie Farm, Orient Heights Housing Development, and Crossroads Family Center — distributes family-size boxes filled with fresh produce and dairy products. …

“ ‘We know this is just a drop in the bucket of need,’ said ICA director Jill Medvedow. ‘We are pleased to help in this small way.’ ” More.

Then in late May, Andrea Shea followed up with a story at WBUR radio.

“Now the museum, its catering company and partnering community organizations in East Boston are extending their food distribution program through Sept. 3.

“ ‘What we learned in April … how hard hit East Boston residents are by COVID,’ ICA director Jill Medvedow said Friday.

The struggle to feed families is ongoing, and Medvedow said it highlights life-threatening disparities the largely immigrant East Boston community faces.

“ ‘Not having the nutrition that contributes to one’s health, to one’s ability to take care of your family, to that sense of dignity that everyone deserves,’ Medvedow said. …

” ‘I see this heroism around me,’ Medvedow said, ‘and I feel very lucky to help facilitate this. That’s my role.’

“About four years ago, when Medvedow and her staff embarked on transforming the 15,000 square-foot condemned building into satellite space for the ICA, they were dedicated to building relationships with the people who live there. ‘I never thought then that this would be the way in which we would demonstrate that the arts and the ICA would be a resource in this Boston community,’ she said, ‘But it is.’

“The food boxes also carry on the ICA’s mission to share art. Each one includes a creative project for families isolated at home. Medvedow said the museum is currently in talks with artists about commissioning new activities designed for both solace and stimulation. …

“Initially the effort’s funding was seeded with unsolicited anonymous donations. Now the ICA is funding the food distribution project and welcomes any additional support. …

“By the end of summer the ICA’s Watershed estimates it will provide more than 2,000 boxes of eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and fruit to East Boston families.” More.

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Photos: Shelter in Place Gallery
Shelter In Place is a miniature, coronavirus-inspired gallery. It was launched by artist Eben Haines, who built the maquette and invited artists to submit works to scale.

If I didn’t believe that for most of us the lockdown would last a lot longer than the current “opening up” stuff, I’d write a post about happy I am to read books to grandchildren again and how sorry I am to see artists abandon their wildly inventive pandemic pursuits.

But I’m pretty sure most of us will still be self-distancing for many moons and enjoying the output from creative people that might never have happened but for coronavirus. I love following @covidartmuseum on Instagram, for example. Some of the submissions are a little too weird for me, but most of them make me laugh out loud. Another great source is the arts website Hyperallergic, where I recently learned about a miniature gallery called Shelter in Place.

Valentina Di Liscia wrote, “In the past month, a Boston gallery has managed to mount 15 exhibitions of brand-new works, with a rigorous program still to come. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, arts institutions around the globe shuttered one after the other; meanwhile, Shelter in Place Gallery [@shelterinplacegallery on Instagram] was not only founded during the crisis but continues to thrive.

“Of course, there’s a catch. Shelter In Place is a miniature gallery, measuring 20 by 30 inches and exhibiting scaled-down works in a model structure created using foam core, mat board, balsa wood, and plexiglass. Artists can submit works at a 1:12 or one inch to the foot scale, allowing them to create and show even ambitious, seemingly large-scale pieces — a romantic, suspended latex installation by Mary Pedicini; wall-to-wall canvases by B. Chehayeb — while traditional exhibition spaces remain closed. With high ceilings and skylights that flood the space with sunshine, the condensed gallery is impressively lifelike, giving artists room to get particularly creative. …

“The brilliant concept was devised by Eben Haines, a painter and graphic designer for exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

‘With the ongoing shutdowns and lockdowns across the globe, artists are having to stay home … So I’ve built SIP gallery as a new platform for Boston Artists (and eventually from all over) to allow for large scale artworks to be made at a desk or dining room table.’ …

“The idea first came to him back in 2018, long before the pandemic, when Haines was asked to participate in a group show at the Porch Gallery in Minneapolis titled Art Fair. The concept was simple: each artist received a 10-by-10-inch, white-painted MDF box that would serve as an ersatz fair booth where they could show scaled work. …

“Months later, as a rainy day project, he decided to create his own 1:12 scale model to house maquettes for large-scale works that he could not produce in his studio due to space or financial constraints. ‘But then the weather got better, and the more or less abandoned model stayed tucked away in my studio,’ he said.

“Enter the current crisis. Haines was one of more than 300 workers furloughed from the MFA Boston, which closed its doors in March … Haines dusted off the gallery model from years back and began making miniature paintings, initially as a strategy to continue working in his reduced studio space, which had shrunk from 400 square feet to a mere 10. But it dawned on him that other artists might be in a similar predicament, confined to less-than-ideal work conditions and aching to share their creations in a meaningful way. …

“All of the works on view are original, and it prioritizes new pieces as opposed to small copies of existing ones. Digital copies are all but prohibited. … So far, all works have arrived ready to be hung, which has made installations easier. …

“Haines emphasizes the project is not commercial; instead, any sales inquiries received are rerouted to the artists themselves, or to their galleries. Nicole Duennebier’s exhibition, for instance, nearly sold out before they could deliver the mini-paintings back to her gallery, 13FOREST. …

“Said Haines. ‘One of my ambitions for this project, besides urging people to step outside of their crisis mode for a little bit, is for artists to be able to use their submission proposals and photographs of their installed work to send to galleries, residencies, or grant programs, and have some momentum when the country opens back up. …

” ‘We’re honestly so busy with the local response we’ve had that it seems daunting to open it up, but once going to the post office gets a little safer and easier, I’d love to be able to show work from outside Boston,’ said Haines.”

Read the whole article at Hyperallergic, here. The pictures are amazing.

Wilhelm Neusser, “Untitled Bog Painting” (2020), oil on linen, a miniature.

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Photo: Craig F. Walker/Boston Globe
Research scientist Hen-Wei Huang talked about Spot the robot during a demonstration at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

When Boston Dynamics first launched its robot dog, people regarded it more as a toy with fancy tricks than as a serious partner in the working world.

Then came coronavirus.

As Hiawatha Bray reports at the Boston Globe, the robot’s remarkable agility is one reason it has become useful for screening potential Covid-19 victims safely.

Bray writes, “At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the first encounter a potentially infected person might have is not with a doctor or nurse swathed in protective gear, but with a talking, animal-like robot that looks like it might have wandered off the set of ‘Star Wars.’

“Spot, the agile walking robot from Waltham-based Boston Dynamics, gained Internet notoriety for showing off its dance moves on YouTube. But now it’s going to work in the real world, striding into the danger zone, armed only with an iPad. The robot is posted just outside the hospital, not so much as a sentinel, but as an intake worker that will help doctors safely interview people who fear they may have been infected with the coronavirus. …

“The yellow-and-black Spot robot, which resembles a large dog, is positioned inside a big white tent set up in front of the hospital’s main entrance as a triage area for potential COVID-19 cases. It is fitted with an iPad that displays a physician located safely inside the hospital who can use the device’s camera to see the patient’s physical condition. The doctor can talk to the patient through the built-in microphone and a mounted speaker, asking standard diagnostic questions.

“The physician is also able to remotely control Spot, directing the machine to move around for a better perspective of the patient. …

‘Most people have been very excited to be interacting with this robot and mostly see it as something that is cool and fun,’ [said emergency room doctor Farah Dadabhoy].

“Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics’ vice president of business development, said that as early as February the company began receiving inquiries from hospitals worldwide. Was it possible, they asked, to use a Spot robot to conduct triage interviews? …

“Many had set up their COVID triage areas outdoors, on lawns or in parking lots. On such uneven surfaces, ‘traditional robotics doesn’t make sense,’ he said. ‘We need something that can handle this difficult terrain.’ …

“Doctors at the Brigham had also been looking into automated triage. In cooperation with engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they worked on remote diagnostic sensors, but they needed a robot to carry them. So in March they reached out to Boston Dynamics.

“The result was a specially modified Spot, featuring the iPad and a little carrying pouch mounted near the robot’s ‘tail.’

“There’s nothing flashy about the pouch, but it’s quite practical. It allows Spot to deliver small items such as bottled water to infected patients, without the need to send in a nurse. Personnel can’t approach a COVID-infected patient, even for something as simple as giving him a bottle of water, without putting on safety gear. … With the medical version of Spot, health care workers can just put the bottle in the pouch and have it marched over to the patient. And the moisture-resistant robot is designed to be sanitized easily.

“The current version of Spot is only good for conducting interviews. But the Brigham will soon deploy an upgraded model with cameras that can measure a patient’s respiration rate and body temperature, with no need to make physical contact. …

The company said it is giving its medical hardware and software designs at no charge to any robotics company that cares to use them. Perry said Boston Dynamics has already had talks with a Canadian maker of wheeled robots.

Read more at the Globe, here.

Spot the Robot Dog in an earlier career as a YouTube dancing sensation.

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I went to the climate strike in Boston, and there sure were a lot of people there. Vox said there were over 2,500 events scheduled in over 163 countries on all seven continents. Millions of people. I even saw a photo on Twitter of the little group of strikers in Antarctica!

I took the train into town, along with a lot of high school students who had received school permission to participate. People under 20 from the region organized the whole thing. Pretty impressive.

Participating organizations were more numerous than I could count. I was glad to see, in addition to the group Massachusetts Climate Strike, the Sunrise Movement, 350, and Zero Hour. I had heard a great talk by two college-age leaders of Zero Hour the Sunday before.

Some fringe organizations that demonstrated at the Boston rally were less uplifting to my way of thinking, but that’s what’s meant by Freedom of Assembly in the Constitution. Democracy can only benefit from freedom of speech and assembly.

David L. Ryan of the Boston Globe got a more panoramic view of the immense crowd than I was able to capture. See it here.

I have to say, the young people’s anxiety about their futures was palpable and made me want to do more to help.

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Honduran Immigrant Detained By ICE Released After 6 Months In Custody

Photo: Getty Images
Two suburban moms learned that asylum seekers lack even the minimal protections of refugees and decided to do something to help them.

Although there are not many refugees coming through at the moment, those that do have official government status and a range of support services when they arrive. Asylum seekers have nothing, and if they don’t have someone to stay with until their case is heard, they are likely to be held in jail, unable to get working papers and start supporting themselves.

Two women in a Boston suburb decided they had to do something to help.

Betsy Levinson reported at the Concord Journal, “Helping asylum-seekers is a two-way street, say the two Concord women who founded a nonprofit in 2014 to offer housing and emotional support to a vulnerable population.

“ ‘Our guests have become our friends,’ said Sharon Carlson, who founded Dignity in Asylum (DIAS) with Andrea Hewitt. …

“The main mission of DIAS is to pay for transitional housing, since asylum-seekers are not eligible for any government support while they go through the lengthy and arduous process of gaining a work permit. …

“ ‘They are so vulnerable,’ said Carlson. ‘They fled persecution and had to escape to save their lives.’

“Without any contacts or resources in the area, they can wind up in homeless shelters or ‘sleeping in stairwells,’ Carlson said.

“Referrals to DIAS come from two sources — the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights and Political Asylum Immigration Representation. Once they get a referral, they send out an application for housing, followed by a meeting to assess the individual need.

“Though many are highly skilled professionals in their home countries, they usually end up in low-level jobs to earn enough to transition from DIAS-supported housing to independence. But [the DIAS founders have] never heard a word of complaint.

“ ‘There is such dignity, such gratitude, such optimism,’ said Hewitt. ‘We feel lucky and grateful. They are lovely people.’ …

“Guests stay free until they get on their feet, and stay connected to the organization after they become independent.

“The outpouring of support [has] been unexpected and overwhelming, the women say.

“ ‘The attitude is so welcoming,’ said Hewitt. ‘The business community has been so supportive.’ The organization has received grants from area churches and the community chest, among other funding sources. For more information, visit dignityinasylum.org.”

More at the Concord Journal, here. I have met these women. To me, they are glowing examples of both personal morality and how a truly civilized country could show compassion for people who take initiative against overwhelming danger. Asylum seekers, managing to get themselves here despite extraordinary obstacles, show the courage and spunk that is needed in society.

 

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2019-02-26-hijab

Photo: Gabrielle Emanuel/WGBH News
Shamso Ahmed has opened the first salon in Massachusetts specifically catering to Muslim women who wear hijabs, a religious head covering.

For some Muslim women, as for some Orthodox Jewish women, covering their hair in public is a religious obligation. Even though no one sees their hair when they are outside, when they are at home or among other women, they want it to look nice. Getting a good haircut at a salon can be a challenge, though.

As a young Virginia woman in a 2013 PRI story said, “There’s a JC Penney that has a hair salon nearby and they kind of stick you in a back storage room, and it’s okay, you still get a haircut, but it’s not the greatest atmosphere and you do kind of feel like you’re being shoved in a corner. It’s nice when they have the real chairs, especially when you’re going to pay that much for a haircut.”

Luckily in Boston, there’s a salon specifically for hijab-wearing women. Gabrielle Emanuel has the story,

“For most people, going to a beauty salon and getting a haircut is routine. But for Muslim women in Massachusetts who cover their hair for religious reasons, it can be a real challenge. At a traditional hair salon, they risk men seeing them without their headscarves on.

“But that is now changing. Massachusetts’ first salon and spa established specifically for Muslim women opened. … Shamso Ahmed is the woman behind the new business. She says she’s been dreaming about this since she was a young girl.

“At the age of 10, Shamso Ahmed fled the civil war in Somalia and arrived in Boston with her family. Two years later, she started wearing a hijab, a Muslim head covering, and that’s when she came up with the idea of opening a salon.

“ ‘I envisioned this huge, big salon that had all the services you could think of,’ remembered Ahmed. She wanted a place where ‘women felt safe.’

“Now, some two decades later, Ahmed has a degree in accounting and training in cosmetology. And she has a salon. While it’s not huge, the storefront is decked out. …

“In a neighborhood peppered with beauty shops, what makes Shamso Hair Studio and Spa unique is not the silver and black décor — or even the henna body art or the hammam steam spa — it is who is allowed in and who is not.

“Ahmed says the space is carefully designed to be female-only. At the door there’s a camera and a code required. The windows are frosted so people walking past can’t see in.

“For Muslim women who wear hijabs, Ahmed says it’s long been hard to find a place to get your hair done. … She said some women go to a salon and befriend a stylist, asking them to come to their home. Others ask to go to a salon after it’s closed for the day or they get their hair done in a backroom. Still others rely on female relatives.

“When Ahmed isn’t working on her other business, a translation service, she has often worked as a stylist going from house to house. Now, Ahmed is hoping her clients and others will come to her salon. …

“Ahmed said there’s been a lot of enthusiasm in the Muslim community, and people came from other states just to attend the opening. ‘Maine, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire,’ she ticked off the places. ‘Some of them came from Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, DC.’ …

“For Ahmed, this isn’t just a childhood dream she’s fulfilling. She said she’s also living out her mother’s dream, who owned a small business in Somalia before war broke out.”

More at PRI, here. There are a couple similar salons in Virginia. Read about them here.

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The Louis D. Brown Peace Walk in Boston has been supporting survivors of violent crime for a quarter century.

The nonprofit’s concern is for the people who are left behind after a violent death — the mothers, the fathers, the children, the siblings, the classmates, the communities. Sometimes the ongoing needs of these survivors get lost. In Boston, some of the bereaved families have banded together to help others heal. They have taken the lead in standing against violence and have invited residents of the Greater Boston area to join them. Nonprofit groups, churches, mosques, synagogues, and individuals arrive from the suburbs in droves.

Here are a few photos from this year’s walk, which is always held on Mother’s Day.

I loved the band that played outside Madison Park High School, where our group joined the walk. Some people carried signs. Lots of people chanted peace slogans. We passed by a mural of the great Frederick Douglass in Roxbury.

If one or two people were to walk down Tremont Street on a rainy Sunday morning, no one would notice. When many hundreds do, it’s an event.

But other than raise funds for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute outreach, which is valuable, does this help prevent violence? There are still homicides in Boston. But the huge gathering seems to generate an indefinable energy and awareness that sometimes leads individuals to wage peace in their own ways throughout the year.

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orchestr981

Photo: Handel & Haydn Society via AP / Chris Petre-Baumer
The Handel & Haydn Society performing Mozart’s “Masonic Funeral” at Symphony Hall in Boston on May 5, 2019. After the performance, the orchestra sought to find and thank the boy who cried “Wow!”

I have a story for you that is sweet on so many levels. You may like it for the support the concert audience gave a young boy or for the wish of the Handel & Haydn Society to find and thank the boy for his response to their music.

I think I like it most because of the way this grandfather is with his grandson.

As Kaitlyn Locke reports at WGBH radio, “Seconds after the orchestra stopped playing Mozart’s ‘Masonic Funeral Music’ at the Boston Symphony Hall on Sunday, 9-year-old Ronan Mattin was so swept away by the music that he loudly exclaimed — for the whole auditorium to hear — ‘Wow!’

“After a beat, as Ronan’s awe-filled ‘Wow!’ echoed throughout the hall, the audience burst into laughter and cheers. So charmed were the Handel and Haydn Society by the child’s exclamation that they asked the public to help find him, hoping to reward the sweet sentiment with a trip to meet the artistic director. …

“Ronan didn’t mean to be disruptive, said his grandfather, Stephen Mattin, who took Ronan to the concert. His grandson, Mattin explained, is on the autism spectrum, and often expresses himself differently than other people.

” ‘I can count on one hand the number of times that [he’s] spontaneously ever come out with some expression of how he’s feeling,’ Mattin said.

“Mattin said that his sister-in-law saw on television that the Handel and Haydn Society was searching for the ‘wow kid,’ and the family, who lives in Kensington, New Hampshire, reached out soon after. The Society has invited them to meet the artistic director, and they are figuring out a date.

“Ronan is a huge music fan, his grandfather said. He took the 9-year-old to another concert in Boston a few months ago, and he ‘talked about nothing else for weeks.’ …

David Snead, the president and CEO of the Handel and Haydn Society, wrote in a Facebook post that it was ‘one of the most wonderful moments [he’s] experienced in the concert hall.’ …

“Mattin said he was touched by the kindness of the other audience members and performers after the ‘wow’ moment, and that the Society reached out.

” ‘You know, everybody’s different. Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves,’ Mattin said. ‘I think people in general, society’s becoming more tolerant or understanding of the differences between people.’ ”

More here.

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30,000 Runners

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I confess that the picture above was taken last August when there were no crowds. It was the cherished goal of 30,000 runners today, including Erik.

After the Boston Marathon downpour last year, when Stuga40 was properly dressed and I wasn’t, I ordered a gigantic blue poncho and a pair of baggy rain pants from LL Bean. Today was the first day I wore the outfit. It wasn’t needed: the rain let up for the whole time I was outdoors.

Results from Boston Marathon 2019, reported by Hayden Bird at the Boston Globe:

“Men’s wheelchair: Daniel Romanchuk of the United States wins, becoming the first American man to win the wheelchair division in Boston since 1993. He’s also the youngest winner in that category ever.

“Women’s wheelchair: Switzerland’s Manuela Schär won her second Boston Marathon.

“Women’s race: Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia won in her first attempt in Boston with an unofficial time of 2:23:31.

“Men’s race: Lawrence Cherono of Kenya won the men’s race.”

Erik, a frequent Marathon runner, had the very respectable time of 3 hours, 8 minutes, and 2 seconds.

Here I am honoring Erik’s birthplace with my Swedish regalia, standing in sunshine and expecting rain. My husband took the picture where we usually watch — in Newton, near the Marathon statues.

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